Microsoft angers ex-Windows boss: Halting Office 365 sync on his new iPhone is 'crazy'

An apparent test at Microsoft to boost Outlook app installs has really riled former Windows chief Steven Sinofsky.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Former president of Windows Steven Sinofsky thinks Microsoft's approach to convincing mobile users to get Outlook for iOS is simply "crazy". 

Sinofsky, who left Microsoft in 2012, this week was attempting to setup his Office 365 account on a new iPhone, but was informed via a generic email from his former employer that syncing email had been put on hold to give him a chance to install Microsoft's recommended iOS email app – the popular Outlook app. 

Sinofsky was given two choices: install Outlook now and syncing could proceed immediately; or do nothing and continue with the default iOS Mail app, in which case syncing would restart "within a few hours".

"Microsoft is recommending that you install Outlook for iOS to access your Office 365 work account," Microsoft's email explains. 

"We've temporarily paused the syncing of your email, calendar, and contacts to other apps on this device to give you a chance to get Outlook. Its integrated calendar and access to Office files and company contacts helps you connect and stay organized from a single app.

"You can choose to get the Outlook app or continue using the built-in apps on your device. If no action is taken within a few hours, your email, calendar, and contacts will automatically begin to sync."

News of Microsoft's Outlook campaign sparked a range of reactions on Twitter, including, to Sinofksy's bemusement, people attempting to explain to him that "it is for my own security and benefit". 

Michael Gartenberg, a former senior Apple marketing director, saw it differently: "One way to gain marketshare. Keep your users hostage."

"This stuff makes me angry," wrote Sinofsky. "No one who likes customers would do something like this."  

Tech media veteran Walt Mossberg described Microsoft's tactic as "Outrageous".

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Sinofsky's run-in with the Outlook app came as Microsoft updated the app's icon "to reflect how we bring email and calendar together with carefully crafted experiences that honor our Office heritage and welcome the future".

The ex-Windows man, who now serves on the board of a venture-capital firm, noted: "No startup would do this. Unless it is a business social network." 

He added that the pause on syncing was likely a test at Microsoft and that he was "sure" Microsoft is using a dashboard to measure how well or poorly the tactic is working to boost Outlook installs, assuming that is Microsoft's intent. 

According to Sinofsky, the halted syncing process never resumed in a few hours as Microsoft claimed it would if he took no action. However, he was able to resume the process by removing the device from the Office 365 quarantine list, which is how Microsoft stopped the sync in the first place. 

The Redmond company has a friendlier image these days, in part thanks to its embrace of Linux under CEO Satya Nadella, who has spent years convincing the world that Microsoft is not the embodiment of corporate evil. 

Still, the company from time to time engages in hostile marketing tactics to achieve its goals, such as the infamous 'Get Windows 10' app in the early days of Windows 10. 

Microsoft said when users connect their phone for the first time to an Office 365 work account using the native iOS or Android email app, they may see a message encouraging them to download the Outlook app, depending on their organization's admin-controlled settings. 

"We have been testing this message for over two years, beginning with Outlook.com, with the goal of creating awareness as we believe users get the best email experience when using the Outlook app," a Microsoft spokesperson said. 

Microsoft added that if users are not interested, they can simply click the 'Continue using this email app' option. If users take no action, their email will continue to sync to their current app.

"No one who likes customers would do something like this," according to former Windows boss Steven Sinofsky. 

Image: Steven Sinofsky/Twitter

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